Category Archives: F-35

Work On The First European-built F-35 For The Netherlands Starts At Cameri FACO in Italy

Assembly of the first European-built F-35 for the Royal Netherlands Air Force has kicked off in Italy.

On Jun. 15, Dutch Secretary of State for Defense Barbara Visser gave a symbolic start signal to the assembly of the first F-35 for the RNlAF at Cameri Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO), in northwestern Italy. She did so by placing her signature on the hull of the AN-9, the ninth of the Netherlands’ 37 F-35A CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) stealth jets on order. The first eight F-35A are being assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facility in the U.S. with two F-35s already used for testing at Edwards AFB, California, and the rest heading to Luke Air Force Base for pilot training.

AN-9 will be the first F-35 to arrive in the Netherlands: the aircraft is expected to roll off the production line in February 2019. It will undertake test and acceptance flights in Italy before moving to Leeuwarden in October 2019.

On May 23, 2016, the first two Dutch F-35A aircraft, AN-1 (F-001) and AN-2 (F-002), arrived at Leeuwarden air base, in the Netherlands, at the end of the type’s first eastbound transatlantic crossing, for a short “tour” in anticipation of the type’s final arrival at the end of 2019. The two aircraft started their journey to Europe from Edwards Air Force Base, California, and crossed the Pond as “NAF 81” (then “Archer 1” and “Archer 2”) after a stopover in Patuxent River, Maryland, supported by two KDC-10s. During their brief European deployment, on Jun. 10, 2016, the two RNlAF F-35s made the type’s international airshow debut during the “Luchtmachtdagen 2016” airshow at Leeuwarden Air Base.

29 F-35A jets for the Royal Netherlands Air Force will be built at Cameri that has already assembled ten F-35A for the Italian Air Force and the first F-35B for the Italian Navy (out of 60 CTOL and 30 STOVL procured by the Italian MoD).

The Italian FACO, a 101-acre facility including 22 buildings and more than one million square feet of covered work space, housing 11 assembly stations, and five maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade bays, is owned by the Italian Ministry of Defense and is operated by Leonardo in conjunction with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. According to Lockheed, 800 skilled personnel are engaged in full assembly of the Conventional Take-off/Landing F-35A and F-35B aircraft variants and is also producing 835 F-35A full wing sets to support all customers in the program. It has the only F-35B production capability outside the United States and was selected in December 2014 as the European F-35 airframe Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade center for the entire European region.

Top image: one of the first two RNLAF F-35s on the ground at Eglin AFB. Dutch staff moved from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to Edwards Air Force Base in California in January 2015 for the operational test phase. Credit: The Netherlands MoD

 

UK’s First Four F-35B Jets Currently On Their Way To The UK and Their New Home Of RAF Marham

The first F-35B aircraft are expected to land later today to join the RAF 617 Squadron “Dambusters”.

Earlier today four Lightning jets of 617 Squadron took of from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, where the famous “Dambusters” unit was reactivated on Apr. 17, 2018, to undertake the transatlantic crossing and arrive at RAF Marham, the new home of the UK’s Lightning Force.

The F-35Bs are being supported by three RAF Voyagers tankers: ZZ330 (RRR9101, radio callsign “Ascot 9101”), ZZ335 (RRR9102, “Ascot 9102”) and ZZ331 (RRR9103 “Ascot 9103”). ZZ330 departed Charleston and picked up the four  F-35Bs from MCAS Beaufort. That took the Lightning as far as ZZ331 and ZZ335 out from Gander that are towing the F-35 across the Atlantic. Supporting the transatlantic trip is also an A400M ZM401 (RRR4085).

The four jets are due to land at RAF Marham this evening, one day later than expected: their mission was delayed 24 hours by the bad weather along the planned route.

The Royal Air Force has also shared a video on social media showing one of the Lightnings during aerial refueling:

According to Air Forces Monthly, nine of the 11 UK F-35Bs currently on strength at MCAS Beaufort (where the British squadron operates under Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501) are expected to arrive in the UK for the RAF’s centenary celebrations this summer, including a flypast over London. And, above all, later this year, the UK F-35Bs will deploy aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time.

“Lightning II has been designed from the outset to carry out a wide range of mission types, able to use its very low observable characteristics to penetrate Integrated Air Defence Systems and strike a number of types of targets. In a permissive environment, Lightning II is able to carry weapons on external pylons, as well as in the internal weapon bays. This will allow a maximum weapon payload of 6 Paveway IV, 2 AIM-120C AMRAAM, 2 AIM-132 ASRAAM (Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile) and a missionised 25mm gun pod,” says official RAF documentation.

“In 2019 we will also start our integration work for the new Meteor [beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile, BVRAAM] and SPEAR Cap 3 [Selective Precision Effects At Range Capability 3] weapon in order to deliver a phase one capability for those assets in 2021,” Martin Peters, BAE Systems’ F-35 flight test manager and test lead for STOVL (short take-off and landing), told AFM.

Top image credit: Crown Copyright

Image Of Israeli F-35 Flying Off Beirut (With Radar Reflectors) As Well As More Details About The Adir’s First Strikes Emerge

A photograph of an Israeli Air Force F-35 flying (more or less..) “over” Beirut has been made public. Interestingly, the image seems to prove the stealthy aircraft was flying with radar reflectors.

As reported yesterday, the Israeli Air Force F-35 stealth aircraft have had their baptism of fire taking part in air strike in the Middle East (Syria and another unspecified “front”) lately. “The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity” the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, said during a IAF conference attended by 20 commander of air forces from around the world. Interestingly, Norkin also presented an image showing an IAF F-35I over Beirut, Lebanon that was not released in first place but surfaced on social media on May 23.

Here it is:

The somehow blurry image is interesting for at least a couple of reasons: first of all, it shows the aircraft flying at high altitude off (rather than “over”) Beirut. Second, it seems to show that the aircraft was also operating with radar reflectors (highlighted in the image below), hence not in “stealthy mode”:

Highlighted in a screenshot from Israel Television News Company one of the F-35’s four radar reflectors.

Here’s what radar reflectors, also known as RCS (Radar Cross Section) enhancers, are as explained in a previous article this Author posted here at The Aviationist earlier this year:

Stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II 5th generation jets are equipped with Luneburg (or Luneberg) lenses: radar reflectors used to make the LO (Low Observable) aircraft (consciously) visible to radars. These devices are installed on the aircraft on the ground are used whenever the aircraft don’t need to evade the radars: during ferry flights when the aircraft use also the transponder in a cooperative way with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies; during training or operative missions that do not require stealthiness; or, more importantly, when the aircraft operate close to the enemy whose ground or flying radars, intelligence gathering sensors.

This is what we explained explaining how the Israeli the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern to the Israeli F-35 Adir recently declared IOC:

[…] the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

F-35s deployed abroad usually feature their typical four radar reflectors: to exaggerate their real RCS (Radar Cross Section) and negate the enemy the ability to collect any detail about their LO “signature”. As happened during the short mission to Estonia and then Bulgaria, carried out by the USAF F-35As involved in the type’s first overseas training deployment to Europe or when, on Aug. 30, 2017, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joined two USAF B-1B Lancers for the JSF’s first show of force against North Korea: the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors, a sign they didn’t want their actual radar signature to be exposed to any intelligence gathering sensor in the area

The two radar reflectors installed on the right side of the F-35. The other two are on the other side.

Since they almost always fly with the radar reflectors, photographs of the aircraft without the four notches (two on the upper side and two on the lower side of the fuselage) are particularly interesting: for instance, some shots taken on Jan. 24, 2018 and just released by the U.S. Air Force show F-35As deployed to Kadena AB, Japan, in October as a part of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Theater Security Package program, preparing to launch without their Luneberg reflectors.

According to Nir Dvori, the journalist who first published the image of the stealth aircraft off Beirut seemingly flying with RCS enhancers, “they test [the F-35] in all kind of options. Fly with and without reflectors”. Indeed, the use of RCS enhancers would simply mean that stealthiness was not required for that specific mission during which they preferred to hide the aircraft’s stealth features preventing the enemy to collect data about the aircraft and test their radar hardware against the Lightning II. Moreover, the F-35 appears to be flying off Lebanon, accompanied by another aircraft (the photo ship), possibly another F-35 or a completely different type – even a G550 like those that continuously fly off Lebanon and Syria and are trackable by means of their Mode-S transponders. This means that the photo might well have been taken during a simple “recon” mission rather than a combat one. Meanwhile, according to Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer:

Not all the missions that the F-35 has so far carried out needed this [stealth] capability. They took part in an airstrike on a Hamas tunnel on the border of the Gaza Strip. Hamas does not have radar, but F-35s were used on this relatively simple mission as part of the process through which its proves it various capabilities. More complex operations against Iranian and Hezbollah targets north of Israel would have utilized its stealth capabilities and some of these did not necessarily involve the F-35 launching missiles itself.

Therefore, it seems confirmed that:

  1. Not all F-35 missions required stealth capabilities
  2. The Adir jets were also used against “easy” targets
  3. The F-35s have taken part in missions during those the Adir did not drop bombs (therefore, it probably acted as “combat battlefield coordinator,” collecting, managing and distributing intelligence possibly sharing targeting data to older 4th Gen. aircraft).
  4. The image seems to prove the F-35 have flown at high-altitude off Beirut (someone says it might have been in international airspace, 12 Nautical Miles from the coast, when the shot was taken, but this can’t be verified based on the screenshot only).

Disclaimer: to our knowledge and based on the sources available on the Internet, those four bumps highlighted in the images you can find in this post are indeed radar reflectors. Several magazines and publications also refer to them as RCS enhancers or Luneberg lenses. Still, if we are wrong and these are EW signal emitters as someone claims, please let us know. Furthermore, the top image is a screenshot from a slide presented during a IAF conference not an actual photograph.

Everything We Know (And Don’t Know) About Israel Launching World’s First Air Strikes Using The F-35 Stealth Aircraft

The Israeli Air Force Has Launched World’s First Air Strikes Using The F-35I Adir, IAF Chief Says.

Israel is the first country to have used the F-35 stealth aircraft in combat, the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said on Tuesday, in remarks that were made public through the IDF’s official Twitter account.

According to Haaretz, the Chief of IAF also presented images, that have not surfaced thus far, showing the F-35I over Beirut, Lebanon and said that the stealth fighter did not participate in the last strike in Syria but did in two previous ones.

“The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity,” he said.

According to local media, speaking at Herzliya conference (held earlier this month) Norkin also said that more than 100 surface-to-air missiles were fired at Israeli jets over Syria.

Whilst the involvement of the F-35 in real missions has been considered “imminent” by some analysts since the Israeli Air Force declared its first F-35 “Adir” operational on Dec. 6, 2017, this is the first time the IAF officially acknowledges, with very little details, the baptism of fire of its 5th generation aircraft.

Indeed, as some journalists have pointed out, it’s not completely clear where and how the F-35s were actually used. Did they strike in Syria and/or Lebanon? What kind of mission did they carry out? Actual air strike (i.e. dropping bombs) or “simple” armed (electronic) reconnaissance?

In the last few months we have observed a series of unconfirmed rumors that the F-35Is had been used to attack Syrian targets. The most recent one, that we completely debunked here, dates back to the end of March, when an alleged IAF F-35 mission into the Iranian airspace was reported by the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida newspaper. According to an “informed source” who had talked to Al-Jarida, two Adir stealth jets flew undetected over Syria and Iraq and snuck into the Iranian airspace, flying reconnaissance missions over the Iranian cities Bandar Abbas, Esfahan and Shiraz.

As reported back then, there were a lot of suspicious things in that story the most important of those was probably the media outlet that broke the news, Al-Jarida, often used to deliver Israeli propaganda/PSYOPS messages. In fact closing the previous article about the “mission over Iran” I wrote:

“The mission over Iran seems […] just a bogus claim most probably spread on purpose as part of some sort of PSYOPS aimed at threatening Israel’s enemies.

Obviously, this does not change the fact that the more they operate and test their new F-35 stealth aircraft, the higher the possibilities the IAF will use the Adirs for the real thing when needed. But this does not seem the case. At least not in Iran and not now.”

Fast forward to today news, the combat debut of the F-35I has been officially confirmed by the Israeli Air Force Chief. With no more details as to where and how the Adir were committed, it’s hard to make any further analysis. For sure, what can be said is that the IAF has proved once again its ability to pioneer combat testing of new aircraft. Although we don’t know the real stategic value of the missions undertaken by the 5th generation aircraft, it’s clear the Israeli have considered the sorties worth the risk. A risk that has become more real on Feb. 10, 2018, when one F-16I Sufa that had entered the Syrian airspace to strike Iranian targets in response to an Iranian drone that had violated the Israeli airspace (before being shot down by an AH-64 Apache helicopter) was targeted by the Syrian Air Defenses and crashed after a large long-range outdated SA-5 missile (one of 27 fired against the jets), hit the Israeli F-16. In that case, in spite the on board warning system of the F-16I alerted the crew of the incoming threat, the pilot and navigator failed to deploy countermeasures.

Although the IAF determined the loss of the Sufa was caused by a “professional error” many sources suggested that the first downing of an IAF jet to the enemy fire since the First Lebanon War could accelerate the commitment of the stealthy F-35Is for the subsequent missions.

What kind of missions? Hard to say. We can’t but speculate here but unless there was some really critical target to hit in a heavily defended airspace, the F-35s might have been initially involved as part of larger “packages” that included other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support where the Adir jets would also (or mostly) exploit their ELINT abilities to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s systems. In fact, along with its Low Observability feature, the F-35 provides the decision makers high-end electronic intelligence gathering sensors combined with advanced sensor fusion capabilities to create a single integrated picture of the battlefield: in other words, not only can the F-35 conduct an air strike delivering bombs but it can also direct air strikes of other aircraft using standoff weapons. The F-35s are known to be able to carry out a dual role: “combat battlefield coordinators,” collecting, managing and distributing intelligence data while also acting as “kinetic attack platforms,” able to drop their ordnance on the targets and pass targeting data to older 4th Gen. aircraft via Link-16, if needed. More or less the same task considered for the USMC F-35B that have flown this kind of missions in exercises against high-end threats in 2016.

Once again it’s worth remembering that along with the inherent risk of flying a combat mission with a brand new technology, as already reported here, the heavy Russian presence in Syria may cause some concern and somehow limit the way the Israeli used or are going to use the F-35 in combat: the Russian radars and ELINT platforms are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths. In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

Actually as pointed out by Israeli political analyst Guy Plopsky, unlike Haaretz and other local media with English pages, other Israeli media outlets (in Hebrew) quoted IAF chief as specifically stating that the IAF had “struck twice” with the F-35 on “two different fronts in the Middle East“, suggesting IAF Adir may have carried out weapons delivery…

This was later confirmed in an official post on the IAF website: “We performed the F-35’s first ever operational strike. The IAF is a pioneer and a world leader in operating air power”.

Anyway, let’s wait and see if other details emerge. For the moment let’s just take note of the first officially-confirmed combat use of the controversial F-35 Lightning II.

Top image credit: IAF

 

Turkey’s First F-35A Lightning II Stealth Aircraft Makes Maiden Flight

Here’s the first Turkish F-35 stealth jet.

On May 10, 2018, the first F-35A destined to the Turkish Air Force performed its maiden flight at Lockheed Martin Ft. Worth facility, Texas. Piloted by US Navy test pilot Cmdr. Tony Wilson, the aircraft (serial 18-0001) took off at 14.47LT and landed at 16.00LT. The photo in this post was taken by Highbrass Photography’s Clinton White during Tukey’s F-35’s (designation AT-1) first sortie.

Turkey should be officially delivered the first of 100 F-35As on order, on Jun. 21, in the U.S.

Chased by a LM two-seat F-16 the first F-35A destined to the Turkish Air Force flies over Ft. Worth.

Two TuAF pilots are currently being trained in the U.S.; after the training is completed, and another stealth aircraft is delivered, the F-35 jets are planned to be brought to Turkey in September of 2019. The trained pilots will fly the two F-35s from the U.S., accompanied by a refueling plane, the Turkish Anadolu Agency reported.

It looks like the delivery of the first F-35 fighter will take place in spite a number of U.S. congressmen have urged the U.S. administration to suspend the procurement of these fighters to Turkey because of the latter’s decision to buy Russian S-400 advanced air defense systems:  indeed, there’s widespread concern that the Turkish procurement could give Moscow access to critical details about the way their premiere surface-to-air missile system performs against the new 5th generation aircraft. “If they take such a step at a moment when we are trying to mend our bilateral ties, they will definitely get a response from Turkey. There is no longer the old Turkey,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told private broadcaster CNN Türk in an interview on May 6, according to Hurriyet Daily media outlet.

Make sure to visit Clinton White’s Flickr photostream for more cool shots!